What is referrer spam?
Before we fully understand what it is, we need to go back a little bit about how traffic works. Today, I will share with you what referrer spam is, how it affects you and your website, and what to do about it.
We will discuss:
- What is referrer spam
- The effects of referrer spam
- What to do with referrer spam
Let us get started as this is an important subject that you cannot ignore.
What is Referrer Spam?
If you are a webmaster, or if you manage your own website, you certainly use analytical tools like Google Analytics. In this tool, you will find out where your traffic is coming from.
In a legitimate referral, somebody backlinks to your site. As such, the audience of that website will go to yours, and your traffic will increase. This is logged in Google Analytics as referrals.
For example, ABC blog linked to your article called “How to Play Basic Guitar Notes”. If people from ABC blog clicked on that link, they would be transferred—or referred—to your website.
ABC blog is the referrer. And if you are using Google Analytics, you will see in your dashboard that some of your traffic comes from ABC Blog.
Since you do not know ABC blog, it is likely that you would click on ABC Blog and to check out what this website is about.
Referrer spam is a kind of traffic that goes to your website. However, it is fake traffic that was generated by robots. What the spammers do is that they have robots that keep on visiting your website.
As such, you would one day become curious: where is my traffic coming from?
If you find out that your traffic is coming from the same sources, wouldn’t you be curious to find out what these websites are?
And if you do become curious, you will click in that link from your Google Analytics to find out. And once you do, they just succeeded in putting a cookie on your browser. And if you make a purchase with these cookies active, these referrers will earn a commission.
The Effects of Referrer Spam
Almost all websites, including big ones like Amazon, have referrer spam. There are several things that this kind of spamming can do, but they are really nothing serious.
What I mean with nothing serious is that you are not being hacked, and nothing is being stolen from you.
Let us take a look at the few effects of this type of spam:
- Annoying – referrer spam is annoying to look at. Once you have identified that the “traffic” is coming from referrer spam, you now know that this is not real traffic.
- Bloating – because this type of traffic is generated by robots, it is easy for these robots to “go to your website” thousands of times. As such, Google Analytics would think that you have high traffic, and you may not realize that this traffic is not real.
- Overload – because these robots still request information from your server, it can cause an overload to your servers. If you are on a hosting service where your traffic is limited on a monthly basis, the real people who are trying to access your site may not be able to do so because the robots already exhausted your traffic limit.
If your traffic is bloated, you would begin to think that you are doing the right thing. Just imagine if you have 20,000 site visitors per month, and 19,000 of that is spam. You would think that your blogging is effective, and now you are going to upgrade your tools, your hosting services and a whole lot more.
What does this mean? It means that you just wasted your money. Your real traffic is only 1,000 visitors per month. If you had known this traffic was spam, then you wouldn’t have thought about buying all these upgrades.
What to Do with Referrer Spam
You have to stop it from happening. While there are no simple ways to automatically remove them, there are steps you can follow to get rid of these robots.
The first thing you need, of course, is Google Analytics. If you are using different software, you have to find support or tutorial for blocking referrals from spam sites.
For Google Analytics, the first thing you have to do is to decide if the source of the traffic is suspicious or not. There is no tool that can indicate if the referrer is spam or not. You have to make this decision yourself.
The trick here is to look for the referrer’s bounce rate. If the bounce rate of the referrer is 100%, it is likely that it is a spam. Also, check the URL of the referrer. If it looks suspicious, then it has to be spam.
Here are some steps that should help you.
- Go to Google Analytics > Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals
- Once the report is ready, scroll down until you see a list of referring websites; some of these are valid and some are not.
- Look at the referrer’s bounce rate and session duration. Most of these are 100% bounce rate with zero minutes or seconds in session duration. Anything unusual is suspicious enough. Besides, who will go to your blog and spend only ten seconds?
- Now, go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels
- Just before the list of the referrals, you will see a Secondary Dimension drop down. Click that and select Source/Medium
- Click on Add Segment then New Segment
- Click on Conditions on the left pane
- Under Ad Content, choose Behavior: Host Name
- Under the Contains drop down, choose Matches Regex
- In the box where you can type, paste this:
- Now, click on OR
- Repeat the content of Ad Content and Contains, and then paste this text:
- Hit the button again and then paste this text:
- Do it for the 4th time and then now, paste this text :
- Click save. What’s gonna happen now is that you will see your real traffic.
To prevent future spam, you have to create filters, and then add the URL of the spam websites. Google will now not include traffic from these spam sites. Check your referral area once a month, and then add new URLs to the filter as you go along.
To create a filter, just go to the Admin tab > View Settings > Copy View. This will allow you to add filters and then view a new report. Note that you can only add the filters if you know the URL of the spammer.
Referrer Spam does not do a lot of damage to your website, except for the fact that it misleads you into thinking that you have high traffic. If you click them, then you might find yourself on another site where you may be interested in buying their products.